On December 8, 2016, Tom Oden, my dear friend and mentor, died. I was sitting in my office at home in Pennsylvania when my cell phone rang. Caller ID signaled the name of a close friend, Michael Glerup, the director of the Center for Early African Christianity; CEAC is a research center that Tom and a close circle of friends had founded to study the African roots of many key aspects of the Christian tradition. I serve on the board.

“Hey,” I said to Mike, anticipating a “hey” back. “What’s happening?” I expected to hear the most recent news. Instead, it sounded like Mike was crying. “Tom died last night.” A shudder silently rippled through me.

The next few days were a whirlwind; travel plans to be changed, phone calls to be made, emails and text messages to be exchanged. In the midst of the busyness, waves of grief rolled over me as the realization sunk in that I would not be seeing Tom for quite a while. How hard these partings are, even when viewed through the prism of Jesus’ resurrection.

Thomas Lynch, one of my favorite essayists and an undertaker in Michigan, writes that “Grief is the tax we pay for loving.” I’ve been paying that tax for the past six weeks and am glad to do so, for I loved Tom very much.

For the next few blogs I want to explore with you what Tom taught me as a mentor and friend, and in some ways as a dad. For me, these blogs will be a way of saying good-bye to Tom. They are also a way to introduce my friend to you. Perhaps Tom’s life and thoughts will help you as they have helped me. 

So, as Nicholas Wolterstorff writes in A Lament for a Son, “Come sit beside me on my mourner’s bench.” If you have suffered a loss—we all will sooner or later—let us learn to say good-bye together. Let us lean into each other as we once leaned into our loved one. And yes, let us invite Jesus into our long, slow farewell. 

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